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February 24, 2009

More discussion of cost concerns in debates over the death penalty

FOXNews has this new article on capital punishment's costs, headlined "Lawmakers Cite Economic Crisis in Effort to Ban Death Penalty: A number of state legislators are citing the country's economic woes as a reason to overturn capital punishment laws." Here are excerpts:

Kansas Republican state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who has proposed a bill to overturn the death penalty in the state, is one of a growing number of legislators nationwide who are citing drained resources and severe budget cuts as a reason to ban capital punishment. "We're looking at any way we can to save money moving forward in the state of Kansas," McGinn told FOXNews.com. "This will save significant money -- money that could be used toward education programs and toward community corrections programs," she said.

Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Nebraska and New Mexico are among those states actively considering abolishing executions as a way to cut costs. But in other states, including Texas and California, the debate has gained little ground.

The proposal has infuriated many who say the death penalty cannot be decided in dollars and cents. "You cannot put a price on justice," said Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six. "Our death penalty statute is a useful tool for law enforcement as they bring justice to families devastated by heinous and violent murder."...

A 1992 estimate in Texas -- which has had more executions than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 -- showed that death row cases cost taxpayers $2.3 million per case, compared to $750,000 for life sentence cases.

McGinn cited a 2003 state audit that reported the median cost for death penalty cases in Kansas was $1.26 million through execution, while non-death penalty cases cost $740,000 through the end of a prisoner's incarceration. McGinn said legal fees related to death row cases make up a large expense for states, which often have to pay the costs of both the prosecution and defense in capital punishment trials.

"When you add all those costs up and weigh it against that individual being isolated and locked up for the rest of his or her life, it's a much greater cost," said McGinn. She said capital murder trials, on average, cost 16 times more than non-death penalty cases.  The appeals cost 21 times more, she said.

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UPDATE:  Wednesday's New York Times has this similar article, headlined "Citing Cost, States Consider End to Death Penalty." Here is how this piece starts:

When Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs. Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic who has cited religious opposition to the death penalty in the past, is now arguing that capital cases cost three times as much as homicide cases where the death penalty is not sought. “And we can’t afford that,” he said, “when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime.”

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have made the same argument in recent months as they push bills seeking to repeal the death penalty, and experts say such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana and New Mexico. Death penalty opponents say they still face an uphill battle, but they are pleased to have allies raising the economic argument.

Efforts to repeal the death penalty are part of a broader trend in which states are trying to cut the costs of being tough on crime. Virginia and at least four other states, for example, are considering releasing nonviolent offenders early to reduce costs. The economic realities have forced even longtime supporters of the death penalty, like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, to rethink their positions.

Relatedly, I just noticed this new editorial from a local paper in Florida, headlined "Capital-Punishment Cost: Death Penalty and Taxes."  Here is how it starts:

The high cost of death-penalty cases becomes ever harder to justify as recession threatens basic law-enforcement funding.  Last month, dozens of probation officers and about 100 positions at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were cut, with others barely escaping the state budget blade. Counties are trimming sheriff's personnel. Many jails are overcrowded.

All of this occurs as violent crime in Florida persists at rates higher than the national averages.  In such a climate, the state should rethink its pursuit of the "ultimate punishment."  Because of heightened constitutional requirements, death-penalty cases are far more expensive than murder trials in which life without parole is sought.

February 24, 2009 at 10:00 PM | Permalink

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